Mark Meadows, facing the looming prospect of criminal contempt of Congress charges, is suing to block a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee, arguing that it unconstitutionally intrudes on former President Donald Trump’s powers to invoke executive privilege.
The former White House chief of staff filed the suit Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Washington against Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the members of the Capitol riot panel and the committee itself. His attorney says he’s been put in an “untenable position” of choosing to defy the committee — and risk criminal prosecution — or defy his former boss Donald Trump’s attempt to assert executive privilege to block his testimony.
“The Select Committee acts absent any valid legislative power and threatens to violate longstanding principles of executive privilege and immunity that are of constitutional origin and dimension,” the suit filed by Meadows’ attorney George Terwilliger contends.
The Jan. 6 select panel has signaled that it is preparing to hold Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate, a move that would send the matter to the Justice Department for potential criminal charges. The panel has rejected Meadow’s claim, noting that current President Joe Biden has not asserted privilege to block Meadows’ testimony. Trump, a former president, has no role in asserting privilege anymore, they say — a position recently supported by another federal judge in Trump’s own lawsuit against the committee.
Asked about the new lawsuit, select panel chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the panel still planned to move forward with holding Meadows in contempt of Congress next week.
“We will fight it out in court, and we will move with as much expeditious format as we can,” he said.
Asked about Meadows’ claim the committee didn’t have “lawful authority” to seek information, Thompson said “in this town, every lawyer has at least one opinion.”
Another panel member, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said of the lawsuit: “Sounds like he’s trying to delay.”
Last week, Meadows agreed to sit for a deposition before the Jan. 6 committee, but on Tuesday his lawyers said he would no longer appear, citing efforts by the committee to go through third-party vendors, such as telephone companies, to obtain records that might be covered by executive privilege.
Over the course of negotiations, Meadows repeatedly offered to answer written questions or discuss topics he deemed “non-privileged” — including details of his contacts with the Justice Department, which Trump sought to deploy in service of overturning the election. But even within those topics, Meadows described limitations on what he would share.
And he also suggested deferring testimony to the committee about his involvement with a call from Trump to Georgia election officials that has been the subject of a grand jury investigation in Fulton County. But the panel never accepted his offer, reserving the right to ask him about topics he deemed privileged.
In his lawsuit, Meadows also levels a procedural complaint against the committee, noting that Pelosi rejected the appointment of two GOP members selected by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to serve on the panel. After Pelosi’s decision, McCarthy pulled his remaining appointees from the committee, leaving Pelosi’s picks as the only remaining members. Pelosi then appointed two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Kinzinger, to the panel.
Meadows contends that McCarthy’s decision to withdraw his remaining picks left the panel without a ranking Republican appointee. Yet the committee’s subpoena authority requires that the ranking members be consulted on subpoena decisions.
“The ordering of Mr. Meadows’ deposition runs afoul of the Select Committee’s authorizing resolution, making it invalid and unenforceable,” Meadows contends.
Meadows also mirrors one of Trump’s central arguments: that the Jan. 6 committee serves no “valid legislative purpose.”
In addition to seeking to block the subpoena to Meadows, the suit filed Wednesday seeks to quash a subpoena the House panel issued to Verizon Wireless for records about the former White House chief of staff’s cell phone use.
Meadows’ suit appears similar to one filed in 2019 by former Trump Deputy National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman over a House Intelligence Committee subpoena seeking Kupperman’s testimony for use in an impeachment investigation focused on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
In response to that suit, lawyers for the House argued that the courts cannot entertain suits from subpoenaed witnesses seeking to resolve such privilege claims.
Kupperman’s suit was framed as a request for guidance from the court, and, at times, Meadows’ suit takes a similar tack.
“Mr. Meadows, a witness, has been put in the untenable position of choosing between conflicting privilege claims that are of constitutional origin and dimension and having to either risk enforcement of the subpoena issued to him, not merely by the House of Representatives, but through actions by the Executive and Judicial Branches, or, alternatively, unilaterally abandoning the former president’s claims of privileges and immunities,” the suit says. “Thus, Mr. Meadows turns to the courts to say what the law is.”
However, the bulk of Meadows’ court complaint takes a more hostile stance towards the committee. Although just days ago he was pledging cooperation with the panel, Meadows’ attorneys are now arguing that the committee was not properly constituted under House rules.
“This information has no bearing on any contemplated constitutional legislation. It is relevant only to serve the Select Committee’s stated purpose of engaging in ad-hoc law enforcement and its unstated purpose of antagonizing its political adversary,” the complaint says.
The House Intelligence Committee dropped its subpoena to Kupperman before the judge assigned to that case, George W. Bush appointee Richard Leon, ruled on whether a witness can take such a fight to court. Leon later dismissed the case.
Another witness subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, is facing criminal contempt of Congress charges for his refusal to appear before the committee. He is set to face trial in July.
Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.